Athena Review: The Modern War on Police Brutality Epic Is Amazing, Furious Spectacle

Athena Review: The Modern War on Police Brutality Epic Is Amazing, Furious Spectacle

It’s been more than a decade since Romain Gavras filled his raw “No Church in the Wild” music video with Molotovs, stolen police horses and dropped shock shields – visual motifs of protest heroism – and the only thing that’s changed is our familiarity with the consequences. The rage behind these images still burns, but we know the cold comfort left behind when the embers are finally trampled underfoot. However, the only thing to do is to light the flame again, which Gavras does in the fascinating and vital Athena. An epic of war between the people and the state, it races through a grassroots resistance movement like wildfire: blinding, dangerous, all-consuming.

The war zone is Athena, a French housing project, where tragedy brought together a community, which grew out of a family. Idir, 13 and the youngest of four brothers – Karim (Sami Slimane), Abdel (Dali Benssalah) and Moktar (Ouassini Embarek) – was beaten to death by police. Someone recorded it on his phone. But we found it in pieces of exposure sprinkled, blown into confetti and floating through the smoke-filled air. Our immediate attention is on Karim, leading a band of like-minded neighbors and youths into a police station.

The opening scene, the first of many incredible feats of planning, camera work and drone operation, will have you vibrating in your seat. Gavras shoots caffeine-like long tracking shots straight into your eyes: Painfully energizing. AthenaThe opening of ‘s is one of the best of the year, a relentless, fist-pounding, jaw-clenching, chilling piece of action that doesn’t stop until you’re totally radicalized. That’s when you start to peer into the style, seeing how it mirrors your characters’ personalities in perspective. there is a reason Athena looks like a heart attack in motion. There is pain and panic. Your heart rate isn’t just increasing from being in a hurry. But until we realize that, Karim and his team star in a sweeping, full-scale epic-a modern day. 1917 where the horrible euphoria of war has returned home. Like the two-shot illusion by Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins, that of Gavras and cinematographer Matias Boucard Athena branches into separate acts by editing and shooting styles.

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The first, where a majestic guerrilla movement reigns with the operatic fervor of youthful fantasy, springs from Karim’s radicals. His “army” – as a child continues to scream in the background – are black and brown, his older Muslim relatives praying for Idir, while most of the white policemen gather outside the banlieue’s gates, ready to climb them in. stairs like orcs in Helm’s Deep. The ever-on-the-run mob ignores those who try to evacuate, and those, like older brother Moktar, who hilariously try to hide their own criminal endeavors. These people are simply not what matters now: they are here for the cause. They document their victories on social media (filming each other shooting each other, wearing a stolen bulletproof vest, in the belly; do it for Idir, but also for Vine). They are out of options but full of hope. His scenes keep running along with the endless vigor of a passionate new activist.

This gives way, as military veteran Abdel slowly takes the lead, to a more rigid and contained framework. The unblinking, swirling camera captures the chaotic circus – motorcycle horses and an endless fireworks show; Mad Max in Cabrini-Green – until it grows old before our eyes, squinting into the bloodshot gazes of men who understand the world a little better. We have a feeling Abdel saw shit. I’ve been on it. He was numb to it. He wants the violence to stop, even if it’s just rowdy kids with hockey sticks and Roman candles bothering hypermilitarized cops who look like Kevlar samurai. He wants it, we feel, because he knows what the consequences will be. What scaling really entails.

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As we discover what Abdel has always known and see the inevitably tragic end AthenaThe Gavras neighborhood epic fills its world with intricate details. Co-writing with Elias Belkeddar and filmmaker Ladj Ly, whose Miserable led to a police showdown all the way to the Oscars in 2019, Gavras’ France is consumed by civil war. In glimpses of news footage, spied on phones held by protesters and televisions in apartments abandoned by their owners, we see a nation protesting injustice. The film is being released as the streets of Iran vibrate in response to the morality of Mahsa Amini’s police killing. But Athena‘s images and emotions are unfortunately universal. A bystander’s swollen eye, which we just saw helping a woman in a wheelchair down a ladder, recalls journalists like Linda Tirado, blinded by a foam bullet documenting the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis. The harrowing debates and heard between talking heads echo the Chicago Tribune op-eds that called not for the safety of the protesters, but of Foot Lockers.

But AthenaThe most overt desires to blur the black and white issue at hand can smack of clumsiness, if not cowardice. An officer (Anthony Bajon) briefly takes a look at the grieving brothers, characterized by wide eyes and painted nails – courtesy of twin daughters. At best, it’s a sloppy way of juxtaposing a family whose children are safe with one whose children were born in danger; at worst, it is an overt attempt to humanize. Sébastien (Alexis Manenti), a quiet ex-terrorist pulled back by one last bomb, is another flourish that seems less mythical than cartoonish. A final scene, which should have been cut in its entirety, bolds a sickening question mark for the case.

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Athena is not here for subtlety, however. It’s here to take the drums out of your ears, the lids out of your eyes, the lead out of your shoes. With scenes that start at “incredibly unbelievable” and shoot towards “im-possible”, his grandiose vision aims to define an international symbol of modernity: Protest As War. Benssalah and Slimane, more political gradients than people, guide us through mythmaking until we fully understand the absurdity of Athena being both the Goddess of wisdom and war. But, as Frank Ocean sings in “No Church in the Wild,” what is a God to an unbeliever? Athena burns bright and fast, burning your unforgettable battle cry to the screen in just 99 minutes. Your idealistic action will stay with you much longer.

Director: Romain Gavras
Writer: Romain Gavras, Ladj Ly, Elias Belkeddar
Starring: Dali Benssalah, Sami Slimane, Anthony Bajon, Ouassini Embarek, Alexis Manenti
Release date of: September 23, 2022 (Netflix)

Jacob Oller is film editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.

For all the latest movie news, reviews, lists and resources, follow @PasteMovies.

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